Finding Higgs as difficult as quest for God Particle

Oct 09, 2013, 09:42 IST | Agencies

Peter Higgs proved to be almost as elusive as the particle that bears his name when officials tried to contact him to tell him he had won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Francois Englert

When you have waited nearly 50 years, what’s another hour? As predicted, Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh, UK, and François Englert of the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for developing the theory of how particles acquire mass. The announcement in Stockholm, Sweden, came after a short delay, perhaps because the Nobel committee was conducting its own Higgs hunt.

The boson boys: British physicist Peter Higgs (right) and Belgian Francois Englert won the Nobel prize for being able to provide an answer to the riddle -- why does matter have mass? Pics/AFP

 The announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics was delayed by an hour as members of the Nobel Prize Committee in Stockholm tried in vain to contact the retired theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. Professor Higgs, who is understood to be recovering from a spell of bronchitis, decided to avoid the media spotlight by going on holiday from his home in Edinburgh for a few days. He has found it difficult to cope with his new found celebrity status. Autograph hunters have even started to approach him in the street.

He is also said to be uncomfortable with the attention he has received for work he did 49 years ago. Instead, he prefers to give credit to others who contributed to the theory and experiments that led to the discovery of a new subatomic particle that has become known as the Higgs Boson.
Staffan Normark, Permanent Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said Professor Higgs had not been told he had won the Nobel Prize when it was announced on Tuesday morning.

He said: “We tried to get hold of him, but of all the numbers we tried he did not answer, so we hope he would know this by now. We are, of course, sending him information right now by e-mail, so he will have it, but I have not been able to talk to him unfortunately.”

When asked if this is what had caused the delay in making the announcement, Normark refused to comment. However, he added: “It is very important to stress that it is today that the academy decides on the Nobel Prize.”

Professor Higgs, who has who two sons and two grandchildren, is expected to return to Edinburgh later this week. He does not own a television and only recently bought a laptop, although he has admitted he struggles to use it. Until recently, he has did not own a mobile phone.

However, before going away, he gave a statement to the University of Edinburgh to publish should he be among those to win the Nobel Prize. It said: “I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy.

I would also like to congratulate all those who have contributed to the discovery of this new particle, and to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support.” He added, “I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”

Professor François Englert, the Belgian scientist who shared the Nobel Prize said he had still to talk to Professor Higgs about the prize. He said, “I am going to congratulate him as he did very important and excellent work.”  

Did you know?
In 2012, the prize money for the Nobel prize was reduced from 10 million kronor to 8 million kronor

CERN’s scientists bask in joy of ‘God Particle’ Nobel
Scientists at the lab that discovered the ‘God particle’ popped champagne Tuesday, ecstatic over the Nobel Physics Prize award for its theoreticians Peter Higgs and Francois Englert. “It’s a great day for particle physics. It’s a huge achievement,” said Rolf Heuer, head of the lab. After heaping praise upon Britain’s Higgs and Belgium’s Englert, Heuer raised a glass to the crowd assembled in CERN’s cafeteria. “It’s your work that allowed the Nobel academy to give this prize. You should give some applause to you guys,” he said, adding, “I’m really proud of you guys.” Experiments at CERN’s lab last year identified what is believed to be the Higgs Boson -- the long-sought maker of mass, theorised in the 1960s. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) flushed out the elusive particle by crashing proton beams together to create snapshots of the Big Bang, producing a bewildering amount of data.

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